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U.S. Pressures Israel to End Ramallah Siege

The American delegation’s draft resolution comes after Israeli soldiers over the weekend razed most of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah compound with bulldozers, leaving only the building housing Arafat still standing.

Israeli forces have been engaged in a four-day standoff at Arafat’s compound, an operation that began after a suicide bombing on a crowded bus in Tel Aviv killed six people last Thursday.

The U.S. document calls on Israelis to withdraw from Palestinian cities, specifically asking Israel to “cease measures in and around Ramallah, including the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure, that aggravate the situation and that do not contribute to progress on comprehensive Palestinian civil and security reforms.”

U.S. officials introduced its draft resolution after the U.N.’s Palestinian observers offered their own plan — a document the U.S says blames Israel for the upsurge in violence, but does not condemn Palestinian suicide bombings.

Speaking at the session, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Israel’s attacks on Palestinian-held areas “a bankrupt policy,” while also saying Palestinian suicide strikes on Israelis were “morally repugnant.”

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going to be resolved by military might alone, or by violent means of any kind,” Annan said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer criticized the Israeli-imposed siege on Arafat’s compound, saying President Bush thought Israel was harming the cause for peace among the Palestinians.

“The president views what Israel is doing now as unhelpful to the cause of bringing about reform in Palestinian institutions,” Fleischer said.

Earlier Monday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met to try to end the standoff at Arafat’s headquarters, but talks disintegrated in a conflict over suspected militants Israel said are among the 200 people inside Arafat’s compound with the Palestinian leader.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters Israeli officials refused to provide a list of the suspected militants. Erekat said Arafat rejected an Israeli demand that he provide a list of those with him in his besieged office. Arafat instead vowed to endure the siege and build a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

“We will defend this land, protect our… camps, villages and cities and the history not just of Palestine but the Arab nation, the history of all free people,” Arafat said.

Meanwhile, Israel has demanded that all of the men inside Arafat’s compound surrender for questioning. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has also suggested his country may embark on expanded offensive against other suspected terrorists. Among them is the militant group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv bombing and other strikes within Israel.

“When the day comes — the moment we can muster the appropriate forces — then we will definitely have to take action to strike at Hamas to stop its operational capability,” Reuters quotes Sharon as saying.

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